Coffee Wars by Kira Marie McCullough

George was the self-proclaimed java genius in the house. His wife, Tess, surrendered to his coffee mastery long ago. Their son, Frederick, had not.

It was Christmas break and Frederick had come home from college, bringing a bag of Tanzania Peaberry and his glass blown Chemex. He refused to use his dad’s Mr. Coffee machine.

Instead, Frederick scooped his coffee grounds into a natural filter tucked into the concave mouth of the Chemex’ glass container. Then, he boiled purified water in the tea kettle. Slowly, he poured the water through the coarsely-ground beans and into the bell-shaped glass. The result was a fragrant infusion, frothy, dark and smooth. After drinking one cup, Frederick put the bag of beans in his suitcase, and stored the brewed coffee in a large mason jar that he kept in his parents’ refrigerator. 

George condemned the practice one morning.

“You don’t need to drink three-day old coffee from a jar,” he said. “We’ve got this new Mr. Coffee.” George lovingly patted the top of its black plastic cover. “Isn’t it beautiful? The coffee-making wonder of the world.”

Frederick grunted. “Mine’s in the Museum of Modern Art,” he said, slouching over his steaming mug spiked with crema and cinnamon

Tess stood at the sink, holding the Chemex.

“Can I put it in the dishwasher?” she asked.

“No,” said Frederick. “Wash it by hand.”

Tess grabbed a scrub brush.

“It’s in a museum because it’s ancient,” said George. “They were using that thing in caveman days. Get with the times, boy! What’s that school putting into that your fool head of yours?”

“Global warming,” said Frederick.

His father laughed. “What does that have to do with coffee?”

“My coffeemaker,” said Frederick, “doesn’t leave a footprint.”

“Mine was on sale,” said George. “Fourteen bucks at Wal-Mart.”

Suddenly, from the sink they heard a shattering noise. A spray of glass flew up from Tess’ hands. Frederick sprinted to her side. Looking in the sink, he saw the broken pieces of his Chemex.

“…it… slipped,” she said.

Frederick’s eyelids began to twitch.  

George’s pale lips spread upwards, pulling his sagging skin into bulging knots beneath his eyes. He got up from the kitchen table, opened the refrigerator door, and dramatically dumped the mason jar of Frederick’s leftover coffee into the sink.

“You’re in my coffee world now, boy,” he chuckled. He swaggered over to the cabinet and pulled out a bleached filter and a can of Folgers.

 “One-hundred percent Arabica,” he said authoritatively. “Four scoops. Four cups of purified water. Pour carefully. Flip the switch.”

The machine sputtered and steamed, pumping out a pale brown stream of liquid.

“What if I don’t like it?” Frederick asked, frowning.

“You’ll like it,” George said. “Don’t use your crap in my Mr. Coffee, ok?”

His mother smiled weakly. “Remember, your father pays the college bills.”

The next morning, Frederick looked at the coffeemaker and sighed. He didn’t want a caffeine headache, so he brewed a pot of Folgers, and sat down at the kitchen table with a mug.

“Yuck!” he said.

He threw back his head and finished it like it was cough syrup. Then he scrambled two eggs and microwaved half a package of bacon. He sat at the table and ate while reading a copy of the New York Times that he had swiped from the college library.

George shuffled into the kitchen in his bathrobe. He emptied what was left of the carafe into his cup. Sitting down next to Frederick, he opened a package of Splenda, sprinkled it, stirred, and took a big gulp. He stood up quickly, whirled around, and spit the mouthful of coffee into the sink.

“That’s COLD!” he shouted, wiping his lips with the sleeve of his robe.

He looked over at the Mr. Coffee machine. “It’s shut off! Didn’t you know it turns off automatically after thirty minutes?”

 “No,” Frederick mumbled.

George shook his head. “This ain’t rocket science.”

He clicked the switch down.

“See that?” he asked. “You gotta turn it off manually.”

He flipped the switch up.

“Then, you turn it back on. That way it’s still hot when I get up.” George began making a fresh pot of coffee.

“Maybe you need to change your major to engineering or something,” he grumbled.

Frederick stuffed the last piece of bacon in his mouth.

The next day, Frederick flipped the switch down and up. When George walked into the kitchen half an hour later, the pot was still hot. Standing at the counter, George poured a cup, sprinkled sweetener, stirred, and took a gulp. His eyebrows turned into straight lines. His cheeks ballooned. He bent over the trash can and spewed it out.

“That’s OLD!” said George. “It’s been sitting too long.”

Looking over his shoulder towards Frederick, who slouched over an English muffin at the kitchen table, George said firmly, “Look, boy I want my coffee fresh. In the mornings, dump yours and make it new for me, ok?”

Frederick slammed the English muffin on his plate and left the kitchen.

Saturday came, and Frederick couldn’t stand the coffee deprivation any longer.  He drove to Starbucks. When he got back, he put half the bag of House Blend into his father’s coffeemaker and flipped the switch. He watched the dark stream of fragrant liquid. The smell was intoxicating. Frederick’s hands trembled as he poured a cup and brought it to his lips. He leaned against the counter and smiled.

George slowly walked into the kitchen.

“Smells funny,” he said, pouring a cup for himself.

He swallowed and gasped.

“What the hell is THIS?” he asked.

Frederick casually took another sip and closed his eyes. “You said, don’t put your crap in my Mr. Coffee,” said Frederick. “And I didn’t.”

“Well this ain’t Folgers,” said George. “What is it?”

“It’s liquid energy. Single sourced. From the mother country.”

George tossed his coffee into the trash can.

“Speak English, boy.”

“It’s Starbucks. I couldn’t find yours.”

George leaned over and pulled the plastic red container from under the sink. He shoved it at Frederick, who caught it and fell backwards against the counter.

“I told you not to use your crap in my Mr. Coffee!” shouted George.

“Mine’s better than yours,” yelled Frederick. “You don’t know where those beans came from!”

“I get those beans from the same place every time,” George said. “Piggly Wiggly.”

George turned his head and stared at the coffee maker.

“Is my Mr. Coffee leaking?” he asked.

Frederick shrugged.

“Why’s all this water here?” asked George. He pointed at the countertop.

“Maybe I spilled some,” said Frederick.

George flipped a kitchen towel from the drawer and began wiping the water.

 “For a college boy, you sure don’t know how to make coffee,” he said disapprovingly. “Next time, wear your glasses.”

When the day arrived for Frederick to leave, he didn’t care anymore about making his father’s perfect cup of coffee. He had had enough. He would make the coffee his own way.

Using one of his natural filters in the Mr. Coffee, he added five heaping scoops of his Tanzania Peaberry. Haphazardly, he emptied a half gallon of purified water through the bin, watching it splash everywhere on the counter. When it was ready, he drank three cups and left one for his father. He flipped the switch down and up, knowing that the small amount of coffee in the bottom of the decanter would probably burn by the time his father came to the kitchen.

Then, Frederick scribbled a note and left it on the table. He packed his bags and quietly left the house.

Yawning, George stumbled into the kitchen an hour later. He picked up the scrap of paper and read it. He turned and looked at the coffeemaker for several minutes, as if he were contemplating the mysteries of the universe.

Lifting his head and pushing back his shoulders, he stepped forward. He thumped the pot with his fist, shaking the last dregs of Tanzania Peaberry, now with a decidedly burnt-after taste, into his cup. He added powdered creamer and a packet of sweetener.

Tess walked in to find George sitting at the kitchen table with the mug between his hands, chuckling. “What’s the matter?” she asked.

“The boy finally did it,” said George, taking another sip.

“Did what?” 

George closed his eyes and sighed.

“He made the perfect cup of coffee.”

 Kira Marie McCullough thinks that the only thing better than writing stories is enjoying a good cup of coffee. She prefers doing both, at the same time. You can find her creative concoctions at https://kiramariemccullough.org/

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